Monthly Archives: November 2012

Making Ravioli and Memories out of Leftovers

A few days after Thanksgiving I found myself thinking all of these leftovers, what is a girl to do?

Roasted butternut squash and zesty carrots. Soup and ravioli, that is what I’ll do.

So, that is what I made. Soup and ravioli. As it turns out though, I made some pretty good memories too.

Nathan, my 5-year-old, has a sixth sense for when I’m about to do something big in the kitchen and he always wants to be a part of it. My older two like to cook with me as well but have other things going on a lot of the time now that they are “big”. Nathan, however, always has the time to be with mommy in the kitchen and when he saw the mixer and the pasta maker come out, he was on his stool ready to go.

Pasta dough, what could be simpler. Flour. Eggs. Salt. Olive Oil. And in Arizona, water – it’s dry here, everything needs water.

Rested and ready to go.

A little kneading. “It’s like play dough, mommy!” A little bit, but it tastes way better!

A little rolling, flattening and stretching. When my husband first saw these pictures, he pointed out that Nathan’s fingernails were dirty and look kind of gross. So, I am including the following fingernail disclaimer: Nathan’s fingernails are dirty and gross, a lot. He’s five. He plays in the dirt, a lot. He did wash his hands before helping, even though it doesn’t look like it. None of his pasta dough actually made it to final production as it hit the floor at least three times in the kneading process. It is safe to eat at my house. There, now the legal department should be happy.

Kneading, smooshing, pounding, smashing and pulverizing are great but this? This is five-year-old kitchen gadget bliss! I should have edited out the garbage can. Sorry. Where was the legal department on this?

He has made pasta. He has worked pasta into submission. He has conquered pasta. He is so proud. So is his mom. She must be if she is willing to post a picture that clearly shows what a disaster making pasta has made of her kitchen.

Wow! He’s good. Just kidding, that’s mine. Incidentally, it is difficult to roll out past and photograph it at the same time. I need a staff. Correction, I need a staff that is over the age of five.

A little bit about the filling. One of my Thanksgiving side dishes was Zesty Carrots (if you are interested, you can find the recipe here). I had quite a bit left over (my husband would tell you that is because they are awful, they’re not) and decided to get creative. I threw them into the food processor with a little bit of turkey stock (freshly made from the turkey carcass – more on that tomorrow), took them for a little spin and voila’ – ravioli filling. The bread crumb topping acted as the perfect binder and the consistency was great. As this was an experiment and my husband and kids are not zesty carrot fans, I made a ricotta and parmesan filling as well.

Note to self, do not pile uncooked ravioli together on a plate. Raw pasta dough is sticky. Sheet tray. Parchment paper. What was I thinking.

Thankfully, all was not lost, I was able to salvage most of the ravioli and there was the sage brown butter sauce. Things are always better when there is sage fried in butter. And wine. Wine makes things better too. In moderation of course; there’s that legal department again.

The finished product was pretty good. I think I am onto something but it needs a little tweaking. The zesty carrots have a horseradish sauce on them, which is delicious but strong and a little overwhelming for ravioli. Especially when what I really wanted to taste was the brown butter sauce and sage and have the filling be more subtle and secondary. Still, all in all, pretty tasty.

In the interest of full disclosure, this was the cheese ravioli which I served with a jarred four cheese alfredo sauce; evidence that it is always a good idea to have a backup plan.

I almost forgot about the butternut squash soup, although I’m not sure how that is possible as it was delicious. I put my left over roasted squash into a pot with enough turkey stock to warm it and give it a good consistency and then puree’d it with the immersion blender.

Simple but yummy.

Thinking outside the box and experimenting in the kitchen is always fun and rewarding. Spending a Sunday afternoon with your five-year-old making memories is joyous. Dirty fingernails and all. You thought I was going to say priceless, didn’t you? It’s that too.

Advertisements

The Traditions of Thanksgiving Day

It is 5 a.m., Thanksgiving morning (actually, it is currently Friday afternoon – you didn’t really think I had time to write on Thanksgiving morning did you? – but I am sharing a memory so please bear with me) the house is peaceful and the joyful madness in the kitchen is about to begin. But first, a cup of coffee and a little breakfast and a moment to enjoy the quiet and the still of the early morning.

A perfect pear and the stuffing will never miss that little crust of bread. Sighhh, I wish I could have truffle butter every morning.

My quiet moment is just that, a moment. There is a lot to be done. This year I will be feeding six adults and eight kids. Not the 25 I fed last year but I love the smaller more intimate gatherings just as much. The people who are coming to spend Thanksgiving with us are special. People I love being with and am looking forward to making a meal for. Friends who have become family. Friends that we have created tradition with. As so many military families do. We started having Thanksgiving together more than 10 years ago, before any of us had children. Now, as I plan the table settings, I realize, we are officially outnumbered. My how we have grown together and how thankful I am for them.

I’ve finished my breakfast and licked any remnants of truffle butter off of the butter knife so, I guess it is time to get started. First on the agenda, stuffing. My favorite. I prep and put together many of my side dishes the day before but I always save the stuffing for Thanksgiving morning. Just one more tradition on a day of many.

I love the smells that fill the kitchen as I make the stuffing, smells from my childhood. Sausage sputtering away in a hot pan and onions and celery sauteing in a sinful amount of butter. I remember waking up to those smells in the morning as a kid and I want my kids to remember it too.

It isn’t even baked yet and it is irresistible. Just a little nibble for quality control. Ahhh, be still my heart. If you’d like to try it, you can find the recipe here, Sausage and Herb Stuffing.

Next, prepping the turkey and starting the stock.

A simmer pot of stock is a must for making gravy and warming up the turkey after it has been sliced and arranged on a serving platter. I throw the turkey neck and giblets into a pot with water, the celery ends, a few small onions and a few sprigs of fresh herbs (sage, thyme and rosemary). When I am ready to use it, I strain it and keep the broth warm on the stove top.

The turkey, the star of the show. I am a briner. Not everyone is. I say whatever works for you but I love how moist and flavorful my turkey comes out after 24 hours of bathing in a salty brine. There are a lot of brining recipes out there. I just buy a package of brining mix from World Market or Williams Sonoma and brine my turkey in a large stock pot in my extra fridge. You can put your turkey in a bringing bag and then brine in an iced cooler if you don’t have the fridge space. Works like a charm.

She isn’t much to look at yet, but she will be … or he, I’m not really sure, I didn’t check.

You can make yourself crazy reading all of the different ways to cook a turkey. Here’s what works for me; brining for 24 hours followed by a good rinse and pat dry, then a rub down with 2 sticks of butter combined with chopped fresh rosemary, thyme and sage (I gently lift the skin and rub it directly on the breast meat as well) and a generous sprinkle of salt and pepper. I tuck the wings under and fill the cavity with a quartered lemon, a quartered onion, and a few sprigs of thyme, rosemary and sage. I put a cup of stock, a cup of white wine and two chopped onions in the bottom of the roasting pan, insert a probe thermometer into the meaty part of the thigh and roast at 325 degrees until the thermometer reads 165 degrees (approximately 3 hours for a 14-16 pound turkey). I do cover the breast with foil if it is getting too brown and I baste 3 or 4 times, or once an hour-ish, during the cooking process. When the turkey comes out of the oven, I tent it with foil and let it rest while my side dishes bake and I make gravy from the pan drippings.

Now for setting the table(s). I hate to iron. I love to iron my table linens. My only explanation is that ironing table linens is easy, even relaxing, and I find it enjoyable because it has to do with food and eating. And I love anything that has to do with food and eating.

Last year, we had so many people for dinner that we had to bring our giant picnic table in from the back yard; which actually worked out great. Benches hold a lot of bottoms!

Thanksgiving 2011

This year, with fewer people, I could get a little more creative and decided to go tan and white with my dishes and linens. I love white dishes but enjoy using a different color salad plate to add some interest. An added bonus is that you can have variety without taking up the storage space that having multiple sets of dishes would. I am always on the lookout for beautiful and interesting salad plates.

A tradition I started a long time ago is to put an ornament at everyone’s place. For me, Thanksgiving marks the beginning of the Christmas season and I want my guests to leave with something for their tree and a remembrance of the day.

This year I found these adorable wooden woven hearts (at Target – where I find so, so many things) which came in white and a beachy whitewashed wood. Lovely.

Someday, my dream of having a 20 foot (or so) long dining room table will come true but for now, I serve all of the food buffet style, because there is just too much of it to put on the table. I do, however, put the salad and a bread basket and butter plate, cranberry sauce, cheese for the salad (this year it was a delicious applewood smoked bleu cheese) and a gravy boat at each end of the table (the gravy doesn’t go on until just before we eat – but I’m sure you already knew that).

For the kid’s table, I found an adorable paper table-cloth (at Target – are you sensing a theme here) with coloring activities, word searches, tic-tac-toe, etc. so the kids had something fun to do while getting settled for dinner.

My daughter is a leftie.

Each of the kids got an ornament too. This year, sweet fabric animals for the girls and colorful dinosaurs for the boys (Target).

The tables are ready.

The Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade is on – gives a whole new meaning to the phrase “parade rest”, doesn’t it?

David has donned the coat from his pirate costume and a straw hat and proclaimed himself a pilgrim.

Our guests have arrived and the kid’s table is a hit.

The turkey is done (I told you she’d be pretty) …

and carved.

The sides are out of the oven. You can find my recipes for Sausage and Herb Stuffing, Sweet Potatoes and Zesty Carrots here. And the recipe for Aunt Peggy’s Corn Casserole here. Enjoy!

It looks like the only thing left is to sit down together, say grace and enjoy the good food and great company the Lord has blessed us with.

I am thankful for …

My Lord and Savior who continues to work in me, pushing me further than I could ever go without Him. A kind and gentle husband who loves me. My children who are such a gift. Family. Friends who have become family. Health and healing. Treasured and beautiful traditions. The home that God has given us, which is so perfectly suited for welcoming company. The sweet faces that are gathered around our table; happy and healthy and loved.

Does anyone have room for dessert?

I’ll give you one guess where I found these adorable cupcakes. You got it, Target – you are paying attention! The beautifully frosted sugar cookies came from A.J.’s – a lovely specialty grocery store that we have here in Arizona.

And the pumpkin pies came from a wonderful little Pie Shop just down the street called Piefection. I can bake. I love to bake. I am not super woman. And, as Ina Garten (who I am also very thankful for) says, “no one has more fun if you make dessert yourself.”  Yes, I know that you can buy gargantuan pumpkin pies at Costco for about $5.00 and I have done that. These pies cost a little more than that and are worth it for two reasons. First, they are handmade with the best ingredients and are delicious and second, I will always support a gal who is brave enough to do what she loves and start her own pie shop. If you are in the area and want a fabulous piece of pie, here is where you can find one:

Piefection, 6731 E. Brown Rd., Suite #104, Mesa AZ, 480-218-PIES(7437), http://www.piefectionaz.com

Did someone say dessert? What timing. We’re just glad Uncle Mark made it and that Thanksgiving dinner re-heats well. The life of an airline pilot, you work a lot of holidays.

Another wonderful Thanksgiving and so much to be thankful for.

This year, I am also thankful for the people who inspired me to write and to start my own blog. I absolutely love writing it and am so thankful to those who have taken the time to read it, like and comment on my posts and support me. I appreciate you so much. I hope you had a wonderful Thanksgiving in the company of those who mean the most to you.

Oh, I almost forgot, I am also thankful for truffle butter; very, very thankful.

A Few of my Favorite Sides

Thanksgiving is one of my favorite Holidays. Which is not surprising considering how much I love food and feeding people.

Each year, even though I promise myself I won’t, I usually buy at least three magazines (okay five) with Thanksgiving recipes. I already have more recipes than I will ever need, use or even read all the way through. And, truth be told, I usually end up making the same things every year anyway because, well, I love them, they are family recipes and they are … tradition. But I still buy the magazines because you just never know and because I have a serious magazine problem.

Here are a few of my favorite family sides, tried and true, made year after year (despite my intention of trying something new).

Sausage & Herb Dressing/Stuffing

This stuffing (or dressing because I like it baked separately, not stuffed into the turkey cavity) recipe is really the one recipe I never deviate from. I can’t. Thanksgiving wouldn’t be Thanksgiving without it. I have changed it up a little from my mom’s original recipe (a fresh herb option, etc.) but for the most part this is the stuffing I have had every year for as long as I can remember.

  • 3 Quarts Diced White Bread (I like crusty artisan bread but I trim off a little of the outer crust if it is too chewy or hard. You can use any white bread).
  • 2 1/2 tsp. Kosher Salt
  • 1 1/2 tsp. Paprika
  • 1/4 tsp. Nutmeg
  • 1/4 tsp. Black Pepper
  • 1 1/2 tsp. Rubbed Sage (or 10 fresh sage leaves, thinly sliced)
  • 2 tsp. Dried Thyme (or 2 Tbsp. fresh thyme leaves)
  • 1/2 Cup Chopped Fresh Flat Leaf Italian Parsley
  • 3 eggs
  • 3/4 Cup Butter + 2 Tbsp. to dot the top of the stuffing
  • 1 Cup Chopped Onion
  • 3 Cups Chopped Celery
  • 1-2 Cups Low-Sodium Chicken Stock
  • 1 pound of sausage – browned and cooled (you can use hot or sweet Italian sausage or a half pound of each or whatever sausage you like).

The night before: dice the bread and let it sit out on a baking sheet to “dry-out” over night, or you can toast it in a 350 degree oven for 10-15 minutes the next day. However you do it, it needs to be dry (not hard but dry).

Place the bread in a LARGE mixing bowl. Mix the salt, paprika, nutmeg, pepper, sage, thyme and parsley together and then sprinkle over the dried bread cubes. Beat the eggs and add them to the mixture. Stir and set aside. Saute’ the onion and celery in the butter until soft and transparent (5-8 minutes), add a pinch of salt to help “sweat” the onions & celery rather than brown them. Cool slightly and then add to the bread mixture. Add enough stock to generously moisten the bread (approximately 1 cup – but it may need more depending on the bread you use). Add the browned and cooled sausage to the mixture. Stir until everything is well incorporated. Put your mixture in a buttered 9×13 casserole dish, dot the top with the remaining 2 Tbsp. butter, cover with foil and bake at 350 for 45 minutes. Remove the foil and bake another 20 minutes until golden brown and crusty on top. Serves 8-10

Sweet Potatoes and Walnuts

Forget the marshmallows! If you love an ooey gooey sweet potato dish then this one is for you. All of my childhood Thanksgivings included this dish and I love it but I have to be honest, I really LOVE roasted vegetables and this year, I am going to serve a roasted sweet potato and butternut squash combo. But here’s the ooey gooey one in case you want to try it, I promise you won’t be sorry (but you will need to work-out the next day).

  • 2 1/2 Pounds of Sweet Potatoes (or yams)
  • 1/2 Cup Broken Nut Meats (walnuts or pecans, whichever you prefer)
  • 1/2 Cup Brown Sugar
  • 1/4 tsp. Nutmeg
  • 1 tsp. Cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp. Kosher Salt
  • 1/2 Cup Butter, melted
  • 1/2 Cup Orange Juice

Steam the sweet potatoes until just fork tender (20-30 minutes) and let them cool completely so you can handle them. Peel and cube the sweet potatoes into bite-sized pieces. Place the sweet potatoes into a buttered 2 quart baking dish. Scatter the broken nut meats over the sweet potatoes. In a small bowl, combine the brown sugar, nutmeg, cinnamon and salt and sprinkle over the sweet potatoes. Combine the melted butter and orange juice and pour over the sweet potatoes. Bake at 350 degrees for 45 to 50 minutes. Serves 6-8

Zesty Carrots

Warning: my husband hates these; but that is just because he’s weird and doesn’t like any sort of casserole. Have you ever heard of a mid-western boy who doesn’t like casserole? I know, crazy. His idea of a Thanksgiving vegetable is a can of corn warmed up in the microwave – where’s the fun in that? Unless you leave it in the can when you warm it in the microwave – that could cause a little bit of “fun”. I am not recommending that, I’m just saying it would be interesting.

  • 6 large carrots – cut into quarters or thick “pennys”
  • 1/4 cup water reserved from cooking the carrots
  • 2 Tbsp. grated onion (or 1 small grated onion)
  • 2 Tbsp. Prepared Horseradish
  • 1/2 Cup Mayonnaise (or May Mays as my son says)
  • Salt and Pepper to taste

Crumb Topping:

  • 1/4 cup dry bread crumbs (I use Panko)
  • 2 Tbsp. Melted Butter
  • Paprika

Cook Carrots in water until they are tender crisp (about 8-10 minutes). Drain the carrots, reserving 1/4 of the cooking water. Arrange the carrots in a shallow baking dish. Combine the onion, horseradish, mayonnaise, reserved carrot water, salt and pepper and pour over the carrots. In a small bowl, combine the bread crumbs and butter and sprinkle over the carrots. Lightly sprinkle the top with paprika. Bake at 375 degrees for 15 to 20 minutes. Serves 4-6

So there you have it. Three amazing side dishes my mom spoiled us with. I apologize that I don’t have pictures – I will post them after Thanksgiving when I’ve made the recipes (I guess I’ll have to make the sweet potatoes after all – oh, darn). Give them a try and let me know how you like them. And don’t forget about Aunt Peggy’s Corn Casserole that I posted yesterday.

Since you were kind enough to read all the way through, I am going to let you in on a little secret. The BEST green beans EVER are at Target. The Archer Farm’s steam in the bag green beans. Throw them in the microwave for sixish minutes, toss them with some olive oil and a good pinch of kosher salt and you will be a star! Fresh tasting, crunchy, perfect green beans just like that – or use them in your green bean casserole; if you don’t have a weird mid-western non-casserole eating husband.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Aunt Peggy’s Corn Casserole

When I got married in January of 1996, I was not only blessed with a terrific husband but also with an incredible new family. He comes from some really great people. One of those people is Aunt Peggy. I fell in love with Aunt Peggy when I first met her when she flew in from Oklahoma (I just had to pause and sing the song in my head for the correct spelling … where the wind comes da da da da da) for our wedding.

Aunt Peggy

I felt at ease and connected with her from the start. She has “a way about her” and is just one of those people who makes you feel loved and special. She is beautiful inside and out. She is a true lady, classy and always fabulously pulled together and she is warm and welcoming. I so enjoyed the time I got to spend with her then even amongst the wedding craziness and busy festivities, I got to know her a little bit and was (am) very happy to have her in my life.

Shortly after our wedding, my husband learned that the Air Force was transferring us to Altus, Oklahoma. That fall, I would be leaving everything that was familiar and everyone (almost everyone) that I loved. I remember being excited about the new adventure but apprehensive about moving away from my family.

I had a hard time at first as we settled into our new home (our first fixer upper – I’ll tell you all about it sometime). I loved being married, I loved working on our home and I was making some really great new friends. But I missed my mom and my sisters and my old friends. Thankfully, Aunt Peggy and her husband Uncle Milt were only about 45 minutes away and they became my “home away from home”. But, I haven’t told you about Uncle Milt yet.

Uncle Milt is the best and I took a shine to him right away. He always called me “that girl”. I would walk in the front door and he would say “oh, here comes that girl” but he said it in a way that was endearing and let me know he was happy to see me. He caught on that I love banana pudding – the kind with the vanilla wafers, chunks of bananas and mounds of whipped cream … heaven! – and would always run over to the all you can eat buffet in town and pick some up so there would be a styrofoam container of affection waiting for me in the fridge.

Some of the best memories I have of our time in Oklahoma are of the cribbage matches between Aunt Peggy and I and Gary (or Doug as his family calls him) and Uncle Milt; girls against boys. Gary and I always had fun going out to the Officer’s Club or two-stepping at “Boot Scooters” with friends. But I had just as much fun (if not more) spending a Saturday night around the dining room table whipping the pants off of those boys – well that’s how I remember it anyway.

I also remember that first Thanksgiving in Oklahoma, my first Thanksgiving as a married lady and my first Thanksgiving away from my family and traditions. It could have been hard. But instead, it was a Thanksgiving with the new family I was coming to love so much and the beginning of new traditions and it was wonderful. It was also the first time I had Aunt Peggy’s corn casserole.

She called it “Mickey’s Corn Casserole” at least that is how I have it written down but I don’t know “Mickey” or why it might be called that. I think of it as Aunt Peggy’s. She made it for me, well she made it for everyone but it felt like she made it just for me, and it made me feel happy and loved. So I am calling it “Aunt Peggy’s Corn Casserole”.

I can’t share my Aunt Peggy with you, I wish I could and I hope that you have an “Aunt Peggy” of your own, but I can share this simple but wonderful recipe with you.

Aunt Peggy’s Corn Casserole

  • 2 – 15 oz. Cans Creamed Corn
  • 4 Eggs
  • 1 Cup Vegetable Oil
  • 1 Box Jiffy Cornbread Mix
  • 1 Tbsp (or 1 small) Grated Onion
  • 1 Cup Grated Cheddar Cheese

Mix all of the ingredients together, pour into a buttered casserole dish (9×13) and bake at 350 degrees for 45 minutes. The casserole will be slightly soft to the touch. Let it rest and “set-up” for at least 15 minutes before serving. Scrumptious! The consistency is somewhere between cornbread and polenta and grits – although I am a Northwestern girl and am somewhat confused by grits so I might be a little off here. Regardless, it is soft and creamy but just firm enough to hold its own.

Aunt Peggy’s Corn Casserole Printable Version

Just a few days ago, I made ribs and served them with the corn casserole and my favorite green beans (I’ll tell you about those some other time).

Oh, that was a happy day! Delicious!

Aunt Peggy and Uncle Milt

Come January, Aunt Peggy and Uncle Milt will celebrate their 56th wedding anniversary. Their love story is an inspiration, as is the family they have built. They have four kids (three sons and a daughter) who, along with their spouses, kids and grandkids, are a testament to the bonds of family. This casserole is a family recipe and is part of a legacy (Jiffy Cornbread Mix and all). I hope you will try it and that you will feel happy and loved too! Let me know what you think and please, someone explain grits to me.

 

The Curious Case of the Missing Candy Corn

One of the main reasons I started this blog was to keep a record of all of the funny stuff that happens in our house. I don’t want to forget anything! I want my kids to be able to look back and remember all of the fun and joy in our lives. I want them to know how they made us laugh.

So, I have just one more Halloween(ish) story that I have to tell before we officially move onto Thanksgiving.

I decorate our home for each season, some seasons are more elaborate than others like fall and Christmas. This year, among the fall foliage and warm colors, I added glass jar lanterns to the dining room table centerpiece. Believing my children to be old enough to “leave things alone”, I filled the lanterns with candy corn and nestled a candle in.

A picture is worth a thousand words.

Oh, there it is, the candy corn candle holder that I was fully confident (mostly) my children would not touch.

Imagine my surprise (wink, wink) when the other night as we sat down to dinner, my husband noticed that one of the candles was leaning sideways and the candy corn had been “disturbed”. Upon further investigation, it became clear that quite a few candy corn were in fact, missing and that it was both candle holders, not just one. When Gary pointed this out, Nathan’s eyes got huge and he immediately said, “it NOT me! it NOT me!” Hmmmm, not the least bit suspicious.

When I pressed a little and asked a few questions, the five-year-old “wheels” started turning and without missing a beat, Nathan exclaimed “I know, I know, it was Sawahhh (Sara), she sooooo sneaky!”

You should have seen Sara’s face.

But before she could say anything, Nathan beings to tell the tale. His storyteller voice becomes hushed and Elmer Fuddish – as in “shhh, be vewy vewy quiet, I’m hunting wabbits”. I hope you get what I’m saying because the way he told this story was truly what made it so funny; of course, the dimples, mischievous sparkling eyes and expressive mannerisms didn’t hurt either. But I digress.

Nathan continues on, “yes, it was Sawah. She sneak up to da taybow and she reach vewy, vewy slowly and quietly into da jar an she take da canny corns so she can eat dem. An dats how it happen. It not me.” And he folds his arms, leans back in his chair and looks across the table at Sara as he shakes his head in disgust at her treachery.

Meanwhile, Sara’s mouth has hit the floor at the shock of the accusation just leveled at her. As the injustice of it all sinks in, she becomes defensive and insistent that she WAS NOT the one who took the candy corn.

We know this. This isn’t our first rodeo. We just couldn’t compose ourselves enough to reassure her. Thankfully, she caught on (I’m not sure if it was the poor attempt at concealing our laughter or the shaking or the tears that gave us away) and actually even played along as Nathan continued to insist that she was the culprit not him.

No, of course not, I mean …

“It not me.”

is this the sweet, innocent face of a storyteller willing to throw his sister under the bus to save himself? Why yes, yes it is.

We did manage to pull ourselves together enough to express our dismay at “anyone” who would sneak or lie or more importantly, mess with mommy’s decorations. He just turned five, if he’s still doing this sort of thing when he’s in law school, I’ll worry then.

Truthfully, I’m pretty excited that my boy with a speech and expressive language delay told such an elaborate tale and that I was able to clearly understand every devious word.

Land of the Free Because of the Brave

Veteran’s Day is always a time of reflection in our home. We are a military family and the sacrifice for freedom is something we understand on a personal level.

My husband is an Air Force officer, commander and pilot. He has been “Air Force” since he first walked through the doors of the Air Force Academy 27 years ago in 1985. He has deployed countless times, flying the KC-135 Strato-Tanker in refueling missions all over the globe. He has always come home to me and that blessing is not lost on me. It is why every year, my heart is with those who have suffered such loss in sacrifice for our freedom and the freedom of those who can not fight for themselves.

My father-in-law, Gary Sr. is a decorated war hero who served three tours in Vietnam. He was gravely wounded and has spent his life overcoming the physical and emotional scars that his sacrifice left. But he is still with us. My kids have the privilege of knowing and loving their grandpa. That blessing is not lost on me either. It is why every year, my heart is with those who have come home broken in body, mind and spirit and why it is also with those who love them and are helping them fight their way “back”.

Today, though, my heart is also with Sonny, as it has been the last three years.

Sonny was my husband’s best friend in high school. He wasn’t a very big guy but he had huge personality and an even bigger heart. Larger than life. Sonny was a person so full of life that you couldn’t help but laugh whenever he was around. His real name was William but everyone called him “Sonny”, it was truly a fitting nickname. That is what I remember about Sonny – that and the Hawaiian Mess Dress shirt he wore under his uniform jacket at my wedding. That was so Sonny.

I also remember the day my husband told me he was gone.

We lost Sonny, CW5 Ret. William F. “Sonny” Hinchman, on July 17, 2009, in a helicopter crash just outside of Baghdad, Iraq. It was a Friday morning. He was 42.

Sonny had just retired the previous April after 25 years of service as a helicopter pilot flying Black Hawks, Cobras and Kiowas in the US Army. After retirement he returned to the Middle East to fly Kiowas for a private security company. It was a Kiowa he was flying that Friday morning.

Sonny by the “Little Bird” he loved so much.

Here is something else I want you to know about Sonny. All of the hours of flying gun ships, all of the dangerous missions, all of the years of service and I know without a doubt, one of the things he was most proud of was making a difference for the kids in war-torn Iraq. Sonny was part of a group of Kiowa helicopter pilots who started “Operation Soccer Ball”. These pilots took notice of the kids that would pick up rocks and hurl them at the helicopters whenever they flew over. Kids who were living through war, afraid, traumatized and angry. Kids very much in need of a little hope.

So, Sonny and a number of other pilots decided to start dropping soccer balls from their helicopters. Sonny told the story of one boy who was poised and ready to throw a rock at his chopper, a boy filled with hatred at all he thought that chopper stood for. When a soccer ball fell from the chopper, the boy dropped the rock, stood confused as he processed the moment and then grabbed the soccer ball and gave them the thumbs up and waved. It seems like such a small thing, a soccer ball, but that boy’s life was made better, perhaps even changed, for the brief moment Sonny was in it.

Thanks Sonny. Thanks for being someone my husband loved. Thanks for being someone I am proud to tell my kids about. Thanks for your heart and for your sacrifice.

We miss you.

Every day.

May God Bless America and the men and women who have fought and died in her defense. May He be with those who continue to answer her call and with their families who sacrifice so much.

“One Nation, Under GOD, Indivisible …”

I am not a theologian. I am not a bible scholar, preacher, pastor, expert or teacher. I am just a girl who has seen God show up BIG in her life. I am a girl who has been changed and who recklessly and unashamedly seeks the heart of Jesus. I am a girl who has learned to listen for the whisper of His voice on my spirit.

It is 4 a.m. My heart is heavy and I hear His whisper.

My heart is heavy because I have absorbed into my being all of the “words” flying around social media, conversations, and the news media right now. Words are important to me, they always have been and I am deeply affected by what people say and what I read.

Do you know how your words affect people? Do we as Christians know how our words affect people?

What picture do our words paint for a hurting and broken world? For a hurting and broken country? Are we painting a picture of judgment, condemnation, fear, a lack of compassion, understanding and hope?

A picture of hell-fire and brimstone?

This is certainly the picture I have seen a great deal of as of late and is the picture that has put such a burden on my heart.

“One Nation, under God, indivisible …”

Indivisible. Yet here we are, completely divided. We have no dialogue, only angry and critical rhetoric. We allow the twisting of facts and the truth (on both sides) to cloud our judgment, form our opinions and further divide us. Our desire to be right and our belief that the sin of another is worse than our own inflames us, strips us of grace and ultimately leaves us bitter and unwilling to hear anything but our own pride and self-righteousness.

What happened to speaking the truth in love? Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of Him who is the head, that is Christ. – Ephesians 4:15

Have we fallen so far? Does our hope truly rest in a political party? In the results of an election? In one man?

What happened to having faith? God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, though the earth should change and though the mountains slip into the heart of the sea; though its waters roar and foam, though the mountains quake at its swelling pride. – Psalm 46:1-3

What happened to believing God is in control? “These things I have spoken to you, so that in Me you may have peace. In the world you have tribulation, but take courage; I have overcome the world.” – John 16:33

The wise and wonderful woman who married my husband’s cousin posted this on Facebook a few days ago; “I’ve remained completely silent on all the political rhetoric on FB until today … and now, I have to comment. My sweet mother used to say ‘You’re the only bible some people will ever read’. The ugly comments made by some Christian adults on FB this a.m. make me angry … I’ve seen two posts by young adults that give me more hope for their generation than ours. Thank you, for your maturity and respectful opinions. The people have spoken, the race was close … now, let’s be the bible we WANT people to read … treating other’s opinion with grace and PRAYING for our leaders.”

Amen sister!

May we as Christians remember that God calls us to be light in dark places, that we may give others the opportunity to see Him reflected in us – in our actions and in our words. No one will receive a true picture of Christ when we shout at them that they are an “abomination to God” or that our nation is now damned because of the vote they just cast. No one will be drawn to the kingdom of God by judgmental and fearful rantings.

Respect for another’s opinion does not mean you agree with them. It means you have grace. Speak the truth in love. Better yet, demonstrate the truth in the way you live.

I have struggled to manage my own tongue and with my own prideful, self-righteous, judgmental and opinionated nature. As I deepen my walk with God and seek His will in my life, He continues to reveal to me that which needs to change in order for me to grow. I am so thankful that He did not leave me where I was. Trust me friends, if you are speaking with a hard heart, even if you are speaking truth, it will sound like judgement and condemnation and it will fall on deaf ears.

A sweet 14-year-old I know, with wisdom beyond her years, posted this “although I didn’t like the election results, I still respect everyone’s opinion. And besides there’s no need to worry because we are in God’s hands. God has a plan for our country and I trust Him to lead and help us through anything.”

Did you hear what she said? “I trust Him”

Trust Him.

Believe that God is who He says He is.

Seek Him in all things.

Love others as He first loved you.

Remember that judgement IS NOT YOURS.

Live in the freedom that His son paid the ultimate price for and not in a spirit of fear.

For God did not give us a spirit of timidity (of cowardice, of craven and cringing and fawning fear), but He has given us a spirit of power and of love and of calm and well-balanced mind and self-discipline and self-control.” 2 Timothy 1:7

Find hope in remembering that we serve a loving and mighty God.

Trust Him.

He is worthy. He is in control. He loves you.

Pray. Pray for faith, for wisdom, for our church, for our nation. Pray for our leaders.

“I urge supplications, prayers, intercessions and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way. This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior.” – 1 Timothy 2:1-3

Show a little grace.

Only then will the healing and recovery begin. Only then will we again be “One Nation, Under GOD, indivisible …”